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Three theories of Counselling

Updated on April 16, 2013

There have been several theories developed which have been applied and used by counselor practitioners in the last four decades. The three major theories include person-centred, attachment theory to counselling and cognitive behavioural.

Person-centred theory places great emphasis on the process of experiencing, making meaning of things as they appear, therefore supporting the belief that each individual has an inner strength as well as the power for personal growth. This strength could be found within therapy through three core conditions; congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard. The actual relationship of therapist and client is important to achieve therapeutic success (Rogers, 1957). Therefore this theory has been mostly effective in therapies which involve helping people who are going through life transactions.

Attachment theory on the other hand, places emphasis on the attachments formed in the first years of life, supporting the view that the attachment between mother and child is the most important of all and that this mostly shapes the attachment patterns developed by the child later in life. Within this theory failure of forming attachments as a child may cause emotional disturbance or problems in forming relationships in adulthood. Therefore attachment theory has contributed to counselling by offering therapists more awareness concerning the ways in which their clients formed relationship with others.

Cognitive behavioural theory was developed out of two existing theories, the cognitive theory and the behavioural theory. An underlying principle of this theory is that all behaviour is learned and can be unlearned. Therefore within the cognitive behavioural approach to therapy individuals are encouraged to recognise the ways in which they behave and therapists help them learn to behave in different and more useful ways.


Person-centred theory, attachment theory and cognitive behaviour theory have been seen as having an integral role in the practice of counselling while each contribute in different ways.

Person-centred theory has mostly stressed the importance of the uniqueness of each individual as well as that of the therapeutic relationship, proposing the main features and most important aspects of therapeutic success, the core conditions of which are congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding.

Further, though attachment theory did not contribute to the development of a single therapeutic approach, it has shed light on counselling in its own way by helping therapists understand their client’s attachments and how these influence their current relationship patterns. This theory has also been used to bring therapeutic change as well as more productive functioning within a client.

Cognitive behaviour theory has emerged out of the existence of two other theories supporting the view that a person’s emotions and behaviours are determined by how they perceive and interpret their experiences. This theory mostly aims to change conceptualisations in order to bring about change. In the therapeutic approach of Cognitive behaviour therapy, therapists are supportive, empathic, and collaborative with their client while making use of experiments as well as empirical processes. In addition, it provides a range of techniques from which the therapist can choose depending on the needs of their client. The main therapies within the CBT framework are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy and Cognitive Behaviour Modification.

Despite the criticisms made and limitations found in all three theories discussed, these remain successfully in use today, within the therapeutic process of counselling.


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    • Chris Achilleos profile image

      Chris Achilleos 5 years ago

      I am very glad that you have found my article helpful Joseph. I have written more hubs on this subject, which i think you may find interesting. Thank you for reading and commenting. Good luck on your Counselling course.

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      Joseph Marfo 5 years ago

      I love this article so much.. it just provided by with a summary of my course in Counselling this semester. thank you

    • Chris Achilleos profile image

      Chris Achilleos 6 years ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting Vinodkpillai, I am very happy that you enjoyed both my hubs.

    • Vinodkpillai profile image

      Vinodkpillai 6 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Chris I liked this as much as the one on Carl Rogers. Thanks!

    • Chris Achilleos profile image

      Chris Achilleos 6 years ago

      Thank you very much Pamela. I am glad you enjoyed reading :)

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 6 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      I liked this article as much as the first one of yours I read. This is nice to have a simple overview of some very complicated subjects. I imagine counselors who work with people on parole would use the cognitive and behavioral theories in the counseling sessions plus be mindful of the attachment theory -- so they can understand their client.